By Sarah Wilson published
Early spring is a crucial time of year to help the bees and now you can do your bit too. Early-flowering plant varieties are vitally important to our bee populations as they provide the year’s first food for queen bees and other insects as they emerge from hibernation. Whatever the size of your garden, including as many bee-friendly plants as you can squeeze in will help them. Even a window box or container on a balcony can be a lifeline for bees. It’s a win-win as your garden will be full of colour and will buzz with life too.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales has made it easier by highlighting some of the best plants for early spring pollinators. 'As pollinating insects emerge on warm days in late winter and early spring, they seek their first meals of the season,' says spokesperson Abigail Lowe. 'After hibernating over winter, bumblebee queens need to find nest sites to form new colonies, which is an energy-demanding task. And while honeybees stay active during warm days throughout winter, they need to replenish their stores in spring.'
With that in mind, try adding some of these pollinator plants to your garden now to help the bees, then for more mays to encourage creatures great and small into your garden, head over to our wildlife garden ideas feature.
With their long flowering season many pollinating insects will forage happily on these lush blooms, attracted by the heavenly scent that drenches the spring air. They offer a splash of much-needed colour when the garden is looking drab.
Among the first flowers to appear early in the year, they offer an abundance of pollen for hungry bees emerging from their long sleep. Plant these gorgeous blooms now and bees can enjoy them for years to come as they are perennial flowers. Find out how to grow hellebores in our feature.
An all-rounder for short- and long-tongued bumblebees, as well as honeybees. Comfrey can run riot in the garden though so buy the non-invasive ‘Bocking 14’ variety so it doesn’t take over. It can be used to enrich your soil too.
4. Grape hyacinths
A favourite with honeybees, grape hyacinths (muscari) provide a magnificent carpet of blue that’s ideal for grazing pollinators to get lost in. Research shows bees prefer blue and purple flowers, which makes these a natural choice for your garden. You'll find more ideas for the best plants for winter colour in our guide.
These hardy star-shaped blue and lilac flowers with pollen-laden stamens emerge from rhizomes in March and are enjoyed by honeybees and bumblebees alike. If you want to attract pollinating insects to your garden these are a must.
Purple varieties such as Crocus tommasinianus are often sought out by bees searching for spring food. Bumblebee queens may breakfast on their bright orange pollen after taking a cosy nap in the closed blooms overnight.
One of the first signs that winter is ending is when the snowdrops start to pop up from the frozen earth in January. They provide vital nectar and pollen early in the year, so pollinators will be sure to visit these flowers on milder days. Head over to our best plants for winter pots for more ideas for your winter garden.
These early flowers provide nectar and pollen when little else is available. The colourful, tubular flowers are enjoyed by many types of wildlife but particularly the hairy-footed flower bee. They're not a showy type of plant but bees love them.
Sarah Wilson has been a lifestyle journalist for many years, writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for Gardeningetc.com, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, as well as Country Homes & Interiors and Modern Gardens magazines.
Her own (small urban) garden is a work in progress - so many ideas, not enough space to cram them in. Hero plants include her ever growing collection of ornamental grasses, black bamboo and ferns, and the perennials like salvias and penstemons that come back reliably year after year. All very restrained though when in fact she'd love to pack her garden with gaudy dahlias and giant cannas, so these are top of her wish list for what to grow next.
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